|By Dave Cokin|
There’s plenty of anger in football, as it’s a violent sport with athletes crashing into each other for sixty minutes each weekend. If you watched the Patriots/Colts showdown, this was on display as both teams played a hard-hitting game, one reason the score was lower than oddsmakers thought.
From a handicapping point of view, how team’s use anger is important to understand. Even head coaches can get angry, blasting a team at the half or in practice for a poor performance. Players can get angry for an upcoming opponent seeking revenge. Other times, teams might NOT show anger when they should be mad as hell, such as the Nebraska defense the last five games. That’s anger management in a negative way, tuning out coaches and not caring anymore.
You have to take your hats off to Michigan. The Wolverines had every reason to be angry during their 0-2 SU/ATS start, losing to Appalachian State and a 39-7 home loss to Oregon (as a favorite)! Yet, rather than pout or point fingers, the Wolverines put on their chinstraps and channeled that anger into an outstanding run, 8-0 SU/6-2 ATS, battling Ohio State for first place in the Big 10. They have done all that with injuries to QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart, making the hot streak even more of an achievement of the players and coaching staff working together when they could have easily splintered back in September.
Another form of anger and focus that we’re seeing now is when a college football team is looking to become bowl eligible. That can provide extra fire for November games. We saw two examples of anger in one college game Sunday night.
Houston maintained their spot atop the Conference USA West Division with a 38-28 win over SMU, along with again becoming bowl eligible. The Cougars really didn't need any more incentive in Sunday's nationally televised home game against SMU, but the Mustangs decided to add to the fire. Before the game, the Mustangs dashed onto the field and stomped on the UH logo at midfield, pointing at and taunting the Houston players and coaches as they did it.
'That was disrespectful,' said Anthony Alridge, who ran for 154 yards. 'We went into the locker room before the game and said, 'We have to make them pay for that.' This is why you see coaches always searching for sidelight tidbits that might get their team angry and motivated.
When the Patriots beat the Cowboys last month, 48-27, reporters noted that the Patriots locker room was littered with popcorn after the game. Dallas WR Terrell Owens had written a note for the press that week saying in effect, “This is a big game and I’m going to shine, so bring the popcorn.” It’s clear Bill Belichick had popcorn brought into the locker room before the game as if to ask his team, “Who is going to be eating popcorn watching the highlights after this game? You or T.O?”
South Carolina is likely to have a tough week of practice from coach Steve Spurrier after last week’s terrible loss to Arkansas. Darren McFadden sliced up one of the conference’s worst rushing defenses, carrying 34 times for an SEC-record-tying 321 yards. “It was pretty embarrassing the way they ran through us, very embarrassing,” Spurrier said. “But I don’t know if we should be completely shocked because we have struggled against the run most of the year.”
Which brings up a good point: A team or a coach can get angry, but do they have the talent to go out there and stick it to their opponent? Nebraska is a team that should be angry the last five weeks, giving up 41, 45, 36, 28 and 76 points. All were losses, going 1-4 ATS, including Saturday’s humiliating 76-39 defeat at Kansas. Nebraska now ranks 118th out of 119 major college football teams in the country in rushing defense.
The Huskers rank 106th in scoring defense and have given up at least 40 points five times as they rank 112th in the country in total defense at 477.6 yards per game. Last week on Pro Line I mentioned that Bill Callahan is gone and nothing happened against Kansas to improve his lame duck status. Anger is a great motivational tool for football players and coaches, IF it’s channeled properly on the field.